Island Records’ Teatro

Willie Nelson’s Bio

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Willie Nelson `On the Road Again’

This article by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 27, 1999.

All rights reserved.

Magic happens when Willie Nelson steps on stage. Several

years ago in Austin, I had the chance to catch a free Willie Nelson

show. Outdoors at Town Lake at night, a hush fell over the crowd of

3,000 when Nelson and his band got on stage. Within minutes, no one

in the crowd was talking. They were all watching, and listening. That

crowd of 3,000 had good reason to be noisy. It included a lot of aspiring

musicians of all sorts — punk rockers, metalheads, bluesmen and

women, and country rock types — in town for the South by Southwest

Music Conference/Festival. But they all shut up when a gray-bearded

man with a beat up acoustic guitar took center stage with Poi Dog

Pondering, a folk-rock ensemble that rose to national prominence in

the early 1990s.

Another audience in rapt attention is likely Wednesday, February 3,

at the State Theater, when Willie Nelson & Family, including harmonica

player Mickey Raphael and his sister Bobbie on piano and keyboards,

take the stage.

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Island Records’ Teatro

Late last year, Island Records released "Teatro," Nelson’s

newest album. Thematically, it’s a continuation of "Spirit,"

his 1996 recording for the same label. Accompanied on 11 of the tracks

by Emmylou Harris, Nelson’s voice and guitar skills are in fine form

throughout.

"I feel like it’s a natural extension of the `Spirit’ album,"

Nelson says of "Teatro" in the biography accompanying his

new record.

"The new songs, such as `Everywhere I Go,’ `Annie,’ and

`I Love You All Over The World,’ show a lot of the same feel, the

Spanish feeling, of the `Spirit’ album. Though it’s certainly not

acoustic anymore!"

Nelson sought out New Orleans-based producer Daniel Lanois (Bob Dylan,

U2, the Neville Brothers) because he brings a lot of ideas to the

recording console. (Lanois produced Harris’ 1995 Grammy-winning album,

"The Wrecking Ball.") With Nelson’s "Teatro," Lanois

added percussion to new and vintage Nelson songs, giving some material

a decidedly un-country-like flavor.

"I put together a list of songs, a hundred, two hundred songs,

and I let Daniel pick them," Nelson says in the biography. Lanois

then picked 20 of those songs and the best recorded versions —

14 songs in fact — made the cut for the album. Included in the

mix, and presumably Wednesday night’s performance, are songs Nelson

first wrote in the early 1960s, when he was still living in Nashville

and making a name for himself as a songwriter. Songs like "I Never

Cared For You," "My Own Peculiar Way," and "Darkness

On the Face of the Earth," were written during a time of growing

career success for Nelson, but also at a time when his personal life

was a shambles. Country singer Patsy Cline was having great success

with his song "Crazy," now a country music staple, at the

same time his first marriage was disintegrating.

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Willie Nelson’s Bio

Nelson was born April 30, 1933, in Abbott, a central

Texas farming community. Raised in a musical family, Nelson learned

gospel and hymns from his grandparents and picked up on blues in nearby

Waco and Dallas roadhouses. He later was influenced by the jazz guitarist

Django Reinhardt. The music that Nelson has created since his professional

recording career began in 1957 is an amalgamation of blues, jazz,

western swing and traditional folk music, so it’s not surprising that

it took Nashville many years to catch up to his multi-genre stylings.

He began writing his own poems when he was five, and his father presented

him with his first guitar at age six. A year later, when he was seven,

his father died. As Nelson writes in his autobiography, "Willie,"

"I didn’t know what to make of it. I think I was sad because the

whole family was weeping and moaning, everybody crying. It was an

almost unbearable situation. It’s not that I don’t think you should

grieve for loved ones who died. I just knew, even then, that there

were things more terrible than death, that death is not necessarily

bad. Maybe I knew at an early age that death is just an illusion.

Maybe I believed in reincarnation."

Since the 1962 release of "And Then I Wrote" for Liberty Records,

Nelson has recorded more than 200 albums. If there’s any theme in

his long recording career, it’s his willingness to take musical risks,

and his innate trust that his audiences will follow him and enjoy

his musical experiments. Fortunately, Nelson’s audiences have always

come along for the ride, or as he says, "sometimes you just have

to believe in what you’re doing enough to gamble on it."

Nelson was one of a handful of artists who pioneered the concept album

before the idea became fashionable: gospel albums, jazz albums, movie

soundtracks, duet albums, Christmas albums, live recordings and his

famous album of standards, the 1978 release, "Stardust."

Although he enjoyed fame within the record business through the 1960s

and early ’70s as a songwriter, his performing career on an international

scale didn’t begin to blossom until his breakthrough album, "Red

Headed Stranger," was released in 1975. Up to that point, hippies

around Austin had been showing up at his shows at the Armadillo World

Headquarters and his annual Fourth of July picnic, which he started

in 1971. After that point, Nelson’s cult-like regional following of

long-haired hippies from central Texas merged with the stodgy, Nashville

country music establishment. As a result, his career as a performer

shifted into high gear. Witness the early 1980s success of songs like

"You Were Always On My Mind" and "On The Road Again."

These days, when he’s not on the road or playing extended Las Vegas

engagements, Nelson continues to write songs from his home in Pedernales,

Texas, west of Austin. He likes listening to blues and classic country

albums, and has several hired hands who help run his Cut ‘n’ Putt

Studios, a recording studio and nine-hole golf course. He wrote his

memoirs in 1988, "Willie" (Simon & Schuster) with longtime

golf writer Bud Shrake, a fellow Austinite.

Nelson has appeared in more than 30 films, most prominently perhaps

"The Electric Horseman," with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda,

"Songwriter," with Kris Kristofferson, and the recent political

sizzler "Wag The Dog" with Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman.

In the 1980s, he evolved into a champion and spokesperson for the

nation’s family farmers, holding his Farm Aid concerts in different

locations every summer.

Nelson, now 65, is repeatedly asked when and if he plans to retire.

His stock answer to that question: "All I do is play music and

golf — which one do you want me to give up?!"

— Richard J. Skelly

Willie Nelson & Family, State Theater, Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 732-246-7469. $25 to $55. Wednesday, February 3,

8 p.m.


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